Edward Barber of British studio Barber Osgerby tells us the background on the modular seating line his firm designed for Knoll.
Our July/August 2014 issue features the sofa and armchair collection by British design studio Barber Osgerby for iconic American furniture maker Knoll. The collaboration began when Benjamin Pardo, Design Director at Knoll, approached Barber Osgerby with a brief to create a sofa that was comfortable, could be used in many different configurations, could feel appropriate in a variety of settings—residential, commercial, hospitality—and that hit a specific price point.
The upholstered line consists of elements that can be configured in an assortment of different ways thanks to an innovative foot system. "It’s really a modular landscape," Edward Barber says. "The idea is that this foot can go between each panel and, in theory, you can [extend the piece] forever. You can have a twenty-seater or an L-shaped thing. You can have it in an airport lounge, or you can have it in your home as a chair, to a two-seater, to a four-seater. It’s the ultimate flexible sofa."
Joined by a cast-aluminum foot, the pieces can easiy be assembled and disassembled to streamline moving. "We wanted to do something in the vein of the Florence Knoll sofa," Barber says. "Our design is a signature piece, but the signature comes from the foot rather than elaborate upholstery—which is either in season or out of season—or a big statement that some people love and some people hate. It's what I'd call quiet design."
"This was an experiment in getting away from having a conventional leg in each corner," Barber says. "We wanted to find a different way to put the sofa together." The cast metal foot joins the seat, back, and arm elements and solves challenges with moving sofas around.
From a shipping standpoint, the sofa fits into smaller boxes since the individual pieces can be separated. From a user perspective, the smaller components make it easier to negotiate narrow doorways and winding stairwells. Instead of lugging an entire six-foot-long sofa up many flights of stairs, people can move smaller portions and reassemble them once the piece is in a room. "Getting big sofas in and out of houses is a massive problem," Barber says. "This breaks down into individual panels so you can just literally take panel after panel and get it into anywhere. There’s innovation in the way it’s put together, innovation in terms of its shipping, and innovation in its installation."
While Barber Osgerby has collaborated with many furniture companies—including Vitra, B&B Italia, Isokon, Cappellini, and Established & Sons, among others—the line with Knoll was among its first forays into designing upholstered pieces. "Upholstery, for us, is actually one of the most difficult things to do because we’re really into the micro details," Barber says. "Upholstery doesn’t really work like that. It’s a different skill set. It’s about stitching. It’s about where the fabric lies. It’s about the angle of the seat and how soft it needs to be at the front of the seat compared the back of the seat. It’s a whole new set of rules. The seat of a wooden chair is the same in the front as it is in the back. You’ve just got to pick the angle. Upholstery is much more complex."
The sofa is available in three different color options for the foot and six different upholstery choices. Visit knoll.com for more.